Redbud
Essential Southern Plant

Blooms fill the branches of the redbud to announce spring’s arrival.
Steve Bender
  • Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
  • Deciduous shrubs or trees
  • Zones vary by species
  • Full sun or light shade, except as noted
  • Water needs vary by species

Adaptable and dependable, redbuds include some of our most charming native trees. In early spring, before leaf-out, a profusion of small, sweet pea–shaped, lavender-pink to rosy purple flowers appears on twigs, branches, and even the main trunk. Blossoms are followed by clusters of flat, beanlike pods that persist into winter and give rise to numerous seedlings around the tree. Handsome, broad, rounded or heart-shaped leaves may change to bright yellow in fall, but fall color is inconsistent.

Redbuds make fine lawn trees, look great in groupings, and have their place in shrub borders and even foundation plantings. In winter, the dark, leafless branches form an attractive silhouette, especially effective against a light-colored wall. Larger types make nice small shade trees for patios and courtyards. And you can’t miss when using redbuds in naturalized settings, such as at the edge of a woodland. Do any pruning in the dormant season or after bloom.

C. canadensis. EASTERN REDBUD. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; 9–2. Native to eastern U.S. The fastest growing and largest (to 25–35 ft. tall) of the redbuds, and the most apt to take tree form. Round headed but with horizontally tiered branches in age. Leaves are rich green, 3–6 in. long, with pointed tips. Flowers are small (1/2 in. long), rosy pink or lavender. Needs some winter chill to flower profusely. Regular water.

Eastern redbud is valuable for bridging the color gap between the early-flowering fruit trees (flowering peach, flowering plum) and the crabapples and late-flowering dogwoods and cherries. Effective as a specimen or understory tree.

Available selections include the following.

‘Alba’. White blossoms.

‘Appalachian Red’ (‘Appalachia’). Flowers are deep pink—not a true red but close to it.

‘Covey’. Dwarf weeping selection with unusual zigzagging, twisting branches. Lavender flowers; leaves slightly larger than those of the species. Original plant was only 4Í ft. high, 7 ft. wide at 40 years old.

‘Flame’. Double pink blooms.

‘Forest Pansy’. Foliage emerges a gaudy purple in spring, then gradually changes to burgundy-toned green as summer heat increases. Rosy purple flowers. Nice color accent; benefits from afternoon shade in summer.

‘Rubye Atkinson’. Pure pink flowers.

‘Silver Cloud’. Leaves marbled with white.

‘Tennessee Pink’. True pink flowers.

Among the deserving subspecies available are these two:

C. c. mexicana (C. mexicana). Heat zones 9–3. From many areas of Mexico. Most typical form is single trunked, to 15 ft. with leathery blue-green leaves and pinkish purple flowers. Moderate to regular water.

C. c. texensis. (C. reniformis). Zones US, MS, LS, CS; 9–4. Native to Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico. To 15–25 ft. high and wide. Takes moderate to regular water. ‘Oklahoma’ has deep purple buds opening to rosy purple flowers; ‘Texas White’ bears pure white blossoms. Both have thick, leathery dark green leaves.

C. chinensis. CHINESE REDBUD. Zones US, MS, LS; 9–3. Native to China, Japan. Seen mostly as light, open shrub to 10–12 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide. Flower clusters are 3–5 in. long, deep rose, almost rosy purple. Leaves (to 5 in. long) are sometimes glossier and brighter green than those of C. canadensis, with a transparent line around the edge. ‘Avondale’ is a superior form with profuse deep purple flowers. Full sun; regular water.

C. occidentalis. WESTERN REDBUD. Zones US, MS, LS; 9–7. Native to California, Arizona, Utah. Shrub or small tree to 10–18 ft. tall and wide; typically multitrunked. Provides all-year interest, with a profusion of 1/2-in. magenta flowers in spring; handsome, 3-in. blue-green leaves and newly forming magenta seedpods in summer; light yellow or red fall foliage; and picturesque bare branches adorned with reddish brown seedpods in winter. Best floral display comes in areas with some winter chill. Little to moderate water; excellent for seldom-watered banks.

C. siliquastrum. JUDAS TREE. Zones US, MS, LS; 9–3. Native to Europe and western Asia. Typically a shrubby plant to 25 ft. tall and wide, occasionally a taller, slender tree with single trunk. Purplish rose, 1/2-in.-long flowers; 3- to 5-in. leaves, deeply heart shaped at base, rounded or notched at tip. Performs best with some winter chill. Moderate to regular water.

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